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Archive for the ‘Tools’ category

Innovation for the Fashion-impaired (Fanny packs save lives)

September 8th, 2012

I was strapping on my Fanny Pack (FP) last week, and my youngest (college-bound) daughter looked horrified …”Oh, my god Dad, whadaya doing?”, shes thinking, as she rolled her eyes upward.

Daughter #2 had less kinder words for me…”yeah , it’s practical, but it’s FUGLY Dad…”.

Designed for Practicality:  the Fanny Pack

Wikipedia’s definition is: is a small fabric pouch secured with a zipper and worn by use of a strap around the hips or waist.  They are also known as buffalo pouch, belly bag, belt pack, bum bag, banano, pochete, and moon bag (my favorite descriptor).

I maintain that The FP is one of the all-time great inventions for the male gender of the species.  Sure, bows and arrowheads were helpful, Chinese gunpowder was an impressive achievement, and even belts and suspenders helped keep us on the up-and-up.  But The FP solves many dilemmas for the modern male.  I fail to understand how this modern innovation has been killed by eye-rolling teens and dismissive spouses.

What’s in Your Fanny Pack?

My own FP allows me to:

  • remove the bulky wallet from back pocket
  • keep me from losing my umpteenth pair of sunglasses
  • hold my compact camera safely
  • contain bulky house/car keys  (they look horrible in pants pockets)
  • organize 4 sets of business cards (that’s right , four….don’t ask) for quick presentation
  • keep foreign currency organized, and hold various sizes of foreign money (I have traveled all over Europe and China without missing a Euro or a Yuen)
  • hold my iPhone safely, along with several iPhone peripherals
  • keep tickets, admissions and discount coupons organized
  • store maps freshly (I hate wrinkled/torn maps on an excursion through )
  • hide earphones and  – choose from among 3 types
  • iPad AC adapter  (that damn iPhone runs out of juice by mid-day if you REALLY use it properly)
  • keep hotel keys safely
  • hold loose change (keeps falling out of my pockets)

The FP is good for city use, sports workout use, travel, in-car coordination, airports, and weddings.

Oh sure, I could wear cargo shorts, but who wants to distribute this loot across my derrière?  Or, I could get a shoulder bag, but most are built for computers or iPads , not 3-dimensional items like keys, phones, wallet, or headphones.  And, in my case, that solution would clearly balloon over time to a 5-lb fiasco.

In short, the FP saves lives.

Excuses, excuses…

Need I say, as we get older, we are already testing the limits of our clothing – hanging on to old pants, jeans and shorts that USED TO fit (and what has happened?).  Who needs this additional bulk to highlight those few extra pounds we’ve gained.  The FP saves clothing.  It extends the use of those jeans we have from college years, those slacks that looked trim on our first job, those shorts that have been to Santa Cruz and back dozens of times…

Innovation trumped by fashion?

Why are  millions of men now suffering from innovation-deprivation at the expense of fashion? When is the last time you saw a woman without a purse, pocketbook, or shoulder bag nearby or on her body?  To be human is to juggle possessions no our bodies, to hold on to things that nobody else wants, and to walk on 2 legs, carrying our lives with us.

I noticed that many men are still wearing watches (look for a future blog post by me on the stupidity of this).  Our cell phones track the time better than most watches, and can display it in 20 different variations, voice-synthesis, any zone in the world, stop watch format, and timer.  Why are men still porting watches.  This is vanity at its worst.  Society has pushed these poor men to wear a watch that is no longer necesary, yet give away their Fanny Packs to good will.   This seems perversely reversed.

I can not make it in a foreign city without my FP. I cannot hit the gym properly without my FP.  I cannot go on a weekend trip to Napa without my FP.  The Fanny Pack has fallen pray to the fashions of the millennium .  It isn’t COOL to wear this anymore, I’m advised , or one could be dated back to the time of cavemen (or at least to the time of ABBA or the Bee Gees) .

Perhaps I’m getting old (or just losing too many sunglasses per week) but it seems to me that we’ve lost one of the greatest innovations know to man.  So, who will invent the next FP?  Will another “Wright Brothers” or serendipitous “click moment” occur for the fashion impaired.

I hope this happens in my lifetime.

In the meantime, roll your eyes all you want. I’m opting for practicality.

Creativity Tool: Mind Mapping

December 18th, 2010

I was inspired this week by a set of mind-maps delivered at the end of a course by student Bryan Alvarez, who is a PhD  Psychology student in my UC Berkeley class on Innovation, Creativity & the Entrepreneur.

Bryan sat in each class this past semester, diligently creating little masterpieces of art/notes while the class discussed all matters of creativity,innovative organizations, famous entrepreneurs, design thinking, wicked problems, and  living in the present moment (to name a few topics). Bryan is also using mind maps to create the game-plan for a very ambitious project he’s under-taken at UC Berkeley called the Virtual Human Body.

What is a Mind Map?

Mind maps are writings/drawings that may include words, graphics, notes, tasks, etc…which are arranged around key ideas, words, or thoughts.  A nice overview of Mind Maps is given on MindTools videos by Amy Carlson & James Manktelow.  Mind maps can created with a few simple words connected by lines, or they can be elaborately drawn as near works of art.  Bryan Alvarez had a simple way of putting it:  “A mind map is a precise way to consolidate a lot of information into an organized system that appeals to our perception in an intuitive manner and can fit on a single page. If a picture is worth a thousand words, one good mind map is worth a thousand notes.

How are Mind maps used?

I’ve seen mind maps used for note-taking, speech-giving, list creation, creative problem solving, visualizing concepts, creating to-do lists, organizing information and group brainstorming.  A quick check on Google yields some wonderful and beautiful mind-maps – like works of art.

Since Alvarez has studied the Brain and Cognitive Science, I thought I’d ask him: “In what ways do you feel that mind-mapping correlates to the way that your mind/brain stores and retains information?”

Here’s what he said:

1. There are at least 17 dimensions (different categories of features) that the visual system uses when creating a visual image. These include dimensions like color, shape, size, orientation, texture, luminance, etc. Map mapping takes advantage of many of these to group related objects (or distinguish unrelated objects) by color, borders, textural patterns, branches extending at different orientations, etc.

2. Your brain can hold about 3-4 different things in mind at one time. This is the capacity of the average working memory. If you are shown 10 numbers very briefly (9238547601) and ask to memorize and recite them in the right order, you will likely remember about 3-4 numbers in the correct sequence. However, if the numbers happen to be ordered in a meaningful way with a clear pattern (0123456789) you will remember all of them easily. In this case, you have “subitized” the 10 bits of information into one meaningful concept. Mind mapping works the same way by grouping different branches with different colors, textures, etc., and by nesting the details of a concept (e.g., 10 different numbers) within a broader framework (e.g., numbers ascending 0 to 9).

3. Mind mapping demands a certain level of attention and focus compared to rote copying. Mapping necessitates an understanding of the way things relate and thus challenges the mapper to find the broad structure of an idea and it’s related pieces and organize them in a way that clearly shows this relationship visually. This means a person must pay close attention, think about and absorb the information deeper, and thus understand it better to structure it in a way that is most meaningful. Attention is a critical part of learning and memory — you learn things better that you attend to and you remember things better that you’ve learned

These are just a few of the cognitive benefits I get from mind mapping. I’m sure there are many more!

How does one get started?

Using Mind Maps is easy, and you can start with no training at all, by following a few simple rules:

  1. Place your central idea, problem, focus-area, etc – at the center of your paper within a small balloon or box, allowing space on all sides of the idea.
  2. Consider roughly how many major sub-topics or “tracks” might emanate from the central thought (and add 2, assuming something new will come to mind later).  Then plan your space around the mind-map so there will be room for all the sub-topics.
  3. Starting with sub-topic #1, create a line to a new box or circle.  Label the line to the new concept with the sub-heading topic name.  You can add a drawing depicting the new sub-topic (for example a drawing of a book if the new sub-topic is “information”) at the end of this sub-topic line.
  4. As new ideas come related to sub-topics of sub-topics, you can branch the line from the central thought and create further branches. Think of the way a tree grows (roots or branches). The central trunk represents a sub-topic, and branches coming off it are further descriptions or sub-sub-topics, and minor branches then become even further sub-sub-sub topics. This is the Divergence step.
  5. New information can be added later to your Mind Map, but finding the appropriate spot to add it and simply drawing a new line.  When you are done, the  map may have “branches” coming out of it in all directions.
  6. After you are done with your drawing, you can go back and make new connections between branches, add color to more easily see the sections/sub-sections or add drawings for major topical findings.  This helps the mind map TELL A STORY.
  7. Some find that an important Mind Map can be improved by consolidated and made more crisp by re-drawing it and re-thinking its structure.  (like a “convergence” step)

Technology Tools Available

There are a variety of tools out on the market that you can use with your Windows PC, Mac or iPad.  MindMeister, is an online tool that allows you to create and share mind maps that reside in the cloud. My students tend to use MindMeister because it’s free/low-cost and can be shared and shown from any browser.  MindJet is a software company specializing in software for the Mac and PC – it is more sophisticated that MindMeister, and better suited to business use in my mind.

Resources for Mind Mapping

There are several great books on the market about mind mapping.  The ones I like best are:

The New Garage Renaissance and emergence of C2B businesses

April 10th, 2010

As a Silicon Valley software entrepreneur and “mentor” capitalist , I like to look for bets in new spaces and keep on top of industry trends…and historically I’ve placed my bets on software- and Internet-oriented companies, with the occasional excursion into biotech, med device, or cleantech.

What’s caught my attention lately is a shift I perceive in manufacturing and hard-goods spaces - perhaps something set to become a revolution in the coming 10 years – one that could potentially lead some traditional venture capital away from software and back to manufacturing and hardware.

The revolution is in the global manufacturing space and in the ability of “micro-entrepreneurs” to design products from their home/garage, easily prototype their ideas, and eventually produce the products in small lots using a global supply chain that is available, for the most part, online.  This revolution has recently been enabled by a global marketplace (enabled by the Internet), 3D design and printing technology,  and a more flexible approach to manufacturing in the US, China and other parts of the world.

This was the “Old Paradigm” for producing physical products :  an inventor comes up with a concept – sends ideas or sketches to product design house which uses sophisticated CAD programs to design the blueprints for the product – then sends designs off to China to have a prototype build and shipped back. If prototype looked good, show to distributors/channels and take advance orders (or raise money for manufacturing on spec) and use advance orders to hire a manufacturing facility (in East) to produce first run of products. If first run sells out, expand capacity, take additional advance orders and make more goods.  Overall time to market – months or years.

The “New Paradigm” emerging is radically different:  inventors and designers anywhere in the world collaborate over the social net on new designs, and use crowd-sourcing to come up with the best ideas – then rapidly prototype their ideas using 3D printers.  The prototype is modified to match market needs and individual parts are ordered from a global smorgasbord of manufacturing options, assembly occurs in China or perhaps locally (“en garage“), and enough product to fulfill real-time need is producted in JIT fashion.  Products can be modified, customized in small batches. Overall time – weeks or months.

The recent Wired Magazine article by Editor in Chief Chris Anderson calls this new world of manufacturing, “The New Industrial Revolution”.  It’s democratized industry, combined with new ways to rapidly prototype and visualize solid-state models of ideas, and online approaches to open-sourcing just about any part, labor, or manufacturing process needed – right off the web. As Anderson puts it: “Atoms are the new bits“.  The diagram to the left is from the Wired article and spells out the New Paradigm.

You’ve  heard of B2C (business to consumer), and B2B (business to business) – well, this is “C2B” – Consumer to Business – millions of garage entrepreneurs who are close to the consumer , crowd-sourcing ideas for future products and THEN manufacturing them.

I spoke with Ross Stevens, world-renown designer who teaches at Victoria University of Wellington and has a passion for this new culture he calls the “Maker Revolution”. We looked at his way-cool website of design work that he and students at Victoria University are working on futures projects which you can see here.

Stevens, who teaches a course called “Materials & Processes”,  believes that in the coming years, we will be able to make or “print” just about anything we can conceptualize — right to our home  on a low-cost printer. Check out this company that Ross suggested I review:   Ponoko, based in SF calls itself: “a creative place where you can make your ideas real … and sell them to the world. The Ponoko website is like having your own personal workshop and factory … and online showroom to sell your designs.”

Other companies and sites I’ll be tracking in this “maker-market” space include:

  • Makerbot Industries – company makes open-source, low-cost 3D printers and has a great blog on the top of “garage Renaissance and 21st Century manufacturing”
  • Reprap wiki - intriguing community site for sharing “designs that create designs (or self-replicating machines)” – go hear to learn how to print a printer that can print another printer that can print another printer…well you get the idea.\
  • ThingyVerse – a site for sharing 3D printable design and connecting to the global supply chain
  • Panjiva Corp – one of the leading marketplaces for the global supply chain, particularly for small-lot work


After reflecting on this “new industrial revolution”, printers that print themselves, and the future of 3D design and small lot manufacturing, I have just one question:  when will they invent a 3D bakery printer that can print a truly great cup of coffee and top-notch bagel each morning for me?

Hey, what’s the Big Idea?

January 5th, 2010

How many times have you read a good book and thought to yourself “That’s a good idea, I should apply that to my own life“….but invariably you did NOT apply it to your life because you had no specific way to do so, or you forgot, or you were just too lazy to do so?

Big Ideas in Short Bites

Brian Johnson probably had these thoughts too, but he decided to do something about it…so he’s spent the past 18 months (much of it in Bali – SWEET!) reading his selection of the Top 101 books of all time in philosophy, self-help, business/leadership, and spirituality…and created short compendium notes (think: “cliff notes with actionable items”) of the best-loved books of all time.

Want to apply principles of Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, Mihaly Csikszentmihayi or Don Miguel Ruiz to your life? Then go get the overviews at PhilosophersNotes , sign up — and gobble up great learnings in short bites.  Brian’s made if available in written, audio and (sometimes) video versions. He’s entertaining and genuinely a nice guy :)

How Creative is this really?

For those of us who suffer from CNG (a.k.a. “Cliff Notes Guilt” as in: “I really should have read the whole book for class but I used cliff notes to get me over hump”), the question you are probably asking is “So… where is the creativity or innovation here”?

I think Brian is onto something very creative – see  this video on his latest project called “LIFE 101″

He has begun to map out the storyboard for a future book/series that will mesh together the great ideas contained in the first 101 books he’s read and reviewed.  This seems to be a creative idea that perhaps others have thought of, but has any one single (other than a book reviewer) actually chosen, read, digested, analyzed, and re-formulated the top 101 philosophy books? That seems useful to me.

See Brian’s blog for more on this…

From “Creativity to Innovation”

If Brian is able to create a Mash-up of the top 101 books, what is the result? Is it possible he will create new connections and intersections (see my past post on Intersectional Creativity and Mashups) that others have not seen before.  Yes, probable. The exciting thing is that by having created a forum in Philosophers Notes where others can view and take action on these books, I think he’s actually using today’s technology in a very innovative way – to turn Ideas and Creativity into actionable results.

Looking forward to Master Brian’s results in the coming year!

Do youTwog?

December 28th, 2009

As an LMG (Lifetime Marketing Guy), it’s hard to ignore social media these days.  Many years ago, many of my peers started using LinkedIn; next  we succombed to Facebook – today, most professionals I deal with (in the Silicon Valley) are on both these networks, and several specialized ones as well (such as Gaia if into spirituality, MySpace if into music, Tripit if into travel, etc).

Social Media Evolution

Among my more adventurous venture capital, entrepreneurial and professorial friends, the next step was tackling Blogging.  Several of my friends became pioneers in this area (although for some of them, this has gone from “wired” to “tired”).  In Evolution Of Man2009, the latest hot thing has been Twitter.  Monitoring and interacting on Facebook, LinkedIn or one’s blog are no longer enough for keeping up with the steady pulse of the ‘Net.  The problem is that these are essentially Asynchoronous (I can check every so often, but not all the time). The Real-time ‘Net – which twists and turns every hour of the day. Thus in 2008-2009 Twitter has become the “next big thing”.  This is active and requires a whole new way of thinking.

Passive Participation Will Not build My Brand

As a marketer today, you might study the 100 million blogs already out there, the vice-grip that Google has on most of the Internet and conclude that it has become much tougher these days to become noticed and gain momentum in social media.  Assuming I am  not already a rock star, famous author, or Tony Robbins in the “real world”, I basically have to work hard to get noticed on the ‘Net today. And, I have to build this notoriety one Tweet or one Blog entry at a time.  It isn’t enough to Blog anymore, nor is it enough to jump into the river of Tweets.  Passive participation in all of this will not do much to build my pesonal brand on the ‘Net.   It’s now necessary to “Twog”.

I Twog, Therefore I Am

What is Twogging?  According to previous definitions, it used to mean “the World of God” or “the world of Golf”.  Twogging is my name for a combination of blogging and twittering. A creative intersection, or mash-up (see my previous blog post on Intersectional Creativity), if you will.

Actually, Twogging is much more. With current technologies, one can not only blog (asynchronously) but one might also Twitter (real-time). And, if one is tweeting, then one might as well also pull in feeds from LinkedIn, MySpace and Facebook – and publish tweets out to all these popular sites simultaneously. Thus, write one thing, and you essentially go out over 5 or more channels of communication to your audience.  Twogging.

The Art of the Twog

I suspect that marketeers in the coming year are going to get very good at Twogging.  They will find ways of using incentives, posting questions, auto-answering real-time requests, and other means for engaging the audience … all in a CLOSED LOOP system that allows them to pull customers/followers from Twitter and send them to a blog, pull blog readers and send them to Twitter, pull LinkedIn/Facebook contacts and send them to either.

Managing all this has been an artform professed by “marketing consultants” who understand the power of “integrated marketing”…but  I suspect we’ll see a lot more social media management sites and software available in the coming years…dashboards that allow one to Orchestrate all this.  Some of the leaders in this area today are:

- TweetDeck – originally developed as a desktop client platform for managing tweets, I think this company will find it is inappropriately branded as it moves forward -  it allows one to manage feeds/comments from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook simultaneously and will likely grow into a Dashboard of sorts for both real-time and asynchronous communications

- Twhirl – another desktop client that runs off Adobe Aire – and integrates FriendFeed, Twitter and likely more in the future.

- Squidoo, – although these companies has been around for several years, they could be well-positioned for Twogging if they realized that they could enable their users to live in both an ansynchronous and real-time world. At present, neither of these sites capture the components of real-time updates, micro-blogging or tweets.

Finally, the Big Boys (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, LinkedIn) have an opportunity to become the dashboard of choice if they adopt and “open standards” approach to things and allow users on their systems to create the “My Yahoo” of the social media world.  Google’s purchase of Blogger in 2003, its success with iGoogle (as a home/starting page for so many ‘Net users), its promotion of the OpenSocial API standards and its 2009 launch of FriendConnect, all place it as the center of Twogging.

DoYouTwog3 copy

I myself am Twogging as I post this…both building a following on Twitter, updating my friends on Facebook and LinkedIn AND continuing to place useful posts on my blog site that will continue to build my persona on the ‘Net…

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